Today is my baby sister's 37th birthday. I'm not sure if the 37 depresses her more or me more by way of the fact she's my little sister.
But aside from realizing we're sliding into middle age, her birthday is a wonderful thing. The girls had asked me a few months back if I'd help them make a cake for their mom. We decided to make it a full out lunch party. So Jordan has been quietly arranging behind the scenes for Suzanne's boyfriend, Andrew, to make sure Suzanne was at my house at 11:30am yesterday for lunch/party.
I picked up the girls Wednesday night after I got off work at 11pm so we'd be together first thing in the morning. Well, we meant to get up early but that didn't exactly happen. Sydney passed out fairly early considering it was almost midnight before we got home, Jordan got caught up in a movie, and my nose was deep in the new Harry Potter book (fabulous!). So it was more like 10am before we were up and cooking. Did I mention they were coming for lunch at 11:30am?
Thankfully, the cake layers were already baked. So while the Paula Deen's French Toast casserole was in the oven, the girls and I made buttercream and the they did it all.
I think they did a fantastic job. The cake is a layer of coconut sandwiched in between two layers of lemon with lemon buttercream and deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep purple fondant flowers and green leaves.
So we weren't awake yet and didn't get pics of the casserole but I do have the recipe after the jump. It was pretty popular. I'd never made anything quite like that before but it's a nice brunch dish. We put the casserole together the night before so it was easy to slip it into the oven the next morning while we were still in our jammies. The girls also served fresh cantalope and sausage links that they baked in the oven.
From bottom left: Ann, Aunt Miranda, me, Sydney, Jordan, Andrew, and the birthday girl: Suzanne.
We all went in together and got Suzanne a family-sized crockpot that she's been needing for a while. She has a crockpot but it's too small. We knew the bigger one was a hit when Jordan said "Yay! Now when we have beans we can have ham TOO! And when we have roast we can put vegetables in with it!"
So what did I do after they left? I was a big wuss and collapsed into the chair with an ice pack on my knee for most of the afternoon and read Harry Potter.
Yesterday was a hard-knock life but today it's back to the grind.
Our niece, Sydney's, 13th birthday was yesterday. My sister had a cake and a small party in their apartment complex and then had to go to work, unfortunately. The small hotel she works at was recently sold, and you know how that is, when you're management sometimes you just get caught in the middle so you can't get away. But that's okay. We had the party in the common room and then the girls came home with me to spend the night.
This birthday cake is from a local bakery and she liked it a lot. Her big family party will be in August as a joint party with her cousin, Kaylee. That's where I'll make the pink butterfly cake for her and the Barbie cake for Kaylee.
Here's Sydney waiting impatiently outside the party room. She kept trying to sneak in so we told her to think of herself as tied to the column until we were ready.
We asked Sydney where she wanted to have her birthday dinner and she picked a local Japanese Steakhouse, Hinode. Yum.
Sydney had one requirement for her birthday dinner: she wanted to wear her party tiara. OH. MY. HEAVENS. But what the hell, it's HER birthday.
This is Sydney trying to eat with chopsticks. She would open them with her right hand and get some salad, then slam them shut with her left hand and then try to get the whole thing to her mouth. Or she'd just pick up the bowl and shovel it in. Whatever works! Gene is sitting on the other side of her.
We have another sushi convert in Gene. Instead of hibachi, he ordered sushi: A Las Vegas Roll (heh heh) and a shrimp tempura roll. Okay, so the LV roll was an inside joke but it was similiar to something he likes at Umi, although as much as we like the hibachi at Hinode, he said the sushi was better at Umi. Hey Ash, I think it's starting to be a consensus. We still need to check out Kai and Haruno to be sure...but Umi's always wins over everyone else so far.
Sorry for the lousy pic. We were too close on the food but didn't want to be on "close up" for the people pics.
Some shots of the hibachi presentation. Sydney, of course, she of the tiara, squealed through the whole thing.
Here's a pic of Sydney with her big sister, Jordan, who's now 15 and isn't as hip on posing for pics with her little sis but we finally talked her into smiling and look how pretty they both look. Right after this pic was taken, though, Jordan stuck her tongue out at me. (She was kidding, not being disrespectful.)
Later in the evening, it happened that my brother called and asked if we could keep his son, Isaac (the one I made the Kenworth cab birthday cake for) overnight, so last night became a huge slumber party. This morning as I decorated a small cake for the neighbor's son (trying out a new pan), Jordan made the best pancakes ever from a new recipe, on my new Pampered Chef griddle, and with King Arthur whole wheat flour that no one, not even Gene knew was whole wheat until I told him later. I'll put up pics and recipes later in the week on the cake and pancakes.
Pay Scales web site, "True tales of working people who do what they love and love what they do", contacted me through this blog for an interview about Respiratory Therapy. Wow, you never know where blogging will lead, do you?
Everyone eventually shows their cookbook collection so today I'm showing mine, along with my messy "someday" and "haven't had time to make up recipe cards" papers shoved in the side in the left hand corner of the top shelf. The bookcase stands on a wall dividing our open plan kitchen/hearth dining room. On the top is the flag from Gene's father's funeral for serving in World War II.
The top row has the messy shoved in sheets of paper, a small photo album where I keep all my cake recipe cards from the business, my wooden recipe box I won for placing in one of the Newman's Own contests, Gene's mother's recipe box, and the cookbooks I use the most (right to left): The New Professional Chef textbook, Baking Illustrated, The New Best Recipe, The Cake Bible, Dairy Hollow House Soup & Bread (for any of you who have that one look on the acknowledgements page, my name is there, I worked at DHH when Crescent published that one), The Passionate Vegetarian, Grill it, Paula Deen, Food & Wine Yearbook, The Whole Grain Cookbook, The Barefoot Contessa, and the Carriage Park Preventive Health Care cookbook from The Doctor's Kitchen (no longer open) where I wrote the original menu and consulted on setting up the kitchen.
The second shelf has a little bit of everyone: on the far left a notebook of my mother's recipes, Nigella Lawson, the local Junior League cookbook: Sassafrass, Farmhouse cookbook, The White House cookbook, a couple of professional pastry volumes, and a Williams Sonoma set.
The bottom shelf is all of my mother's Wilton Yearbooks dating back to the mid-70's, and the middle shelves are several years' worth of Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, and assorted cake decorating and newstand cooking magazines.
Gene says I have waaaaaaaaaaaay too many cookbooks. I laugh and know he has no clue how many cookbooks a lot of my foodie friends own. I will say that since I tend to make up my own recipes as I go along and since the advent of the internet and all the wonderful recipe databases, I don't linger over cookbooks as much as I used to. In a way it makes me treasure the ones I do buy even more for being able to hold them in my hands and leaf through their pages.
I think a lot of us have found that taking a lunch saves us from the perils of the cafeteria, both bad food and bad choices. Yesterday was a good proof of that for me. For this last stretch of work, on the days I took my lunch to work I was able to get in my fruits and vegetables and eat good sources of protein while the one day, yesterday, I didn't pack a lunch and ended up with a ham sandwich. Not that that part was bad but a croissant? Why didn't my mouth say "wheat bread, please"? Instead I said "mayo, yes please.". Grrrrr... And then I had macaroni and cheese on top of it. Grrrr...
But on the other days I'm glad to say this is what I ate:
Looks like fish sticks, doesn't it? It's chicken fingers. I didn't like using the ones with breading but I was in a hurry and I'd run out of breadless tenders. Next time I'll put the tomato and lettuce in separte baggie and put it together at work. The tomatoes made it a little soggy but other than that it was good. From bottom up, the layers are: light cream cheese, Harry & David onion pepper chutney, lettuce, cherry tomatoes halved, and chicken fingers.
Small tuna, sharp cheddar, melba toast, raisins, zuchini sticks.
I'm down 1.8% of my body weight since starting what I now think of as the "Ashley Diet" meaning the diet I'm on with co-workers, put together by Ashley. I'm following the Omega Diet, concentrating on good fats, complex carbs, lots of fresh food. We're making a push through the end of summer up until Halloween when we see who wins the money we've all chipped in.
This is another wedding cake from when I had the business. One of the things I loved about this was that the couple had asmaller reception held in an art gallery downtown. One of my favorite galleries, actually, where there were pieces I wanted badly, like a three foot high sculpted calla lily glazed in a earthy mix of browns and greens designed to look like burnished copper with verdigris. I loved both the use of color that wasn't traditional for the lily and that the artist used the medium in a way that made my eyes go wide when I realized that what I thought I was looking at from across the room wasn't what it was at all.
This cake was one of my favorites because it was a winter wedding with the color scheme of red and white, my personal favorite color is red, with red roses and holly with berries. The photo looks okay but in real life it was extremely attractive against the brick wall. I would have thought the reds would clash but it was the opposite. The brick background set off the vividness of the white buttercream and the true red of the roses.
I took a beating price-wise on this cake because there were so many gumpaste roses. The couple did pay me for a few dozen but at the time I just kept adding them in until I got the look we all REALLY wanted.
Not everyone thinks of cake decorating as artistry but I do. Other than the challenge of completion, I never really enjoyed just repeating a design from a Wilton book or a magazine where people want every single flower and border to be exactly the same in color and placement. That's yet another reason why I no longer have the business and only bake for family. With family, they're happy to get (within their theme) what I decide to create for them and they know I'm in my element when I have a free hand. I remember that this couple said only that they wanted a no pillar construction, no plastic bride and groom, and lots of red roses in a simple design. That's the way I like it too. The design seems common now but for twelve years ago in this Midwestern town, it was very progressive.
Every time I walk by that gallery at the corner of Walnut and South, I smile and hope those folks are still married and happy.
Lunchbox contents from top to bottom, left to right: Protein snack bar, Crystal Lite individual pack, Protein shake, Cold Sesame Noodle Salad with Peanuts and Parsley, fresh pitted cherries, zuchinni sticks, baby carrots.
Last night was my first night back at work at the hospital (respiratory therapy) in right at three months. For the two people I haven't whined to I had a knee injury followed by an incredibly long diagnosis journey, followed by surgery exactly five weeks ago. Last night was my first night back on the job and it was a doozy. But such is life. Right now my life revolves around Aspercreme and ice packs.
Since I'm also back to wanting to take good, healthy meals to get me through my shifts rather than go to the cafeteria...I know. You'd think a hospital cafeteria would focus on only extremely nutritious food but the sad fact is no one would buy it. We have a nice salad bar and they do serve a poached fish several times a week but I wasn't consistently seeing or buying what I should be eating so, like a lot of people, I brown bag it. Or in my case, I cute little Japanese bento box it.
IF I can find foods that are fast, satisfying, and pretty in my fridge. Otherwise, it's a challenge.
Last night's lunch fulfilled all three. The cold sesame udon noodle salad was inspired by Sher, at What Did You Eat's Spicy Sesame Noodles with Peanuts and Basil. That photo looks so inviting to me that I had to make it even if I didn't have all the ingredients in the cupboard. Real creativity in the kitchen, mine at least, is brought on by cravings, a skimpy pantry, and an unwillingness to go to the grocery for one or two items. So my Sesame Noodle Salad with Peanuts and Parsley sved my day. Or dinner. Depends on how you look at it.
The best part was the entire lunch took less than fifteen minutes to prepare and I was on my way. It's all about a little juggling. While the noodles boiled, I prepared the vegetables for the salad and the rest of the veggies in the lunchbox. By the time the noodles were cooked, everything was packed, the dressing for the salad was made, and all I had to do was toss it all together and scoop it into the bento. You can't beat that with a stick, like my grandmother always said. Have no idea what it means but it feels right for this case.
Ever since Kyleen, the Texan New Yorker, pointed out that to me that if you Google "Peggy Hill's Apple Brown Betty" a link to a post on my blog from almost a year ago shows up as the number 1 link, I've been feeling a little guilty. The post that got me up there on Google was a post for Frito Chili Pie and only mentioned Peggy Hill and Apple Brown Betty. I feel like a bad girlfriend who's led all those people on without putting out. But today is the day we remedy that.
By the way, that happened a couple of months ago. Since then I've dropped to number 3. Which is a little strange considering that ever since that post, I've been getting fairly regular traffic from people looking for Peggy's Apple Brown Betty, but recently I've gotten a half dozen or more google searches for that every single day! It makes me wonder if one of the episodes that features the Brown Betty has aired ln syndication lately.
Happily on my part, for all of you "Peggy Hill's Apple Brown Betty" searchers on Google and Yahoo, here's your recipe.
I'll be honest. I had never made or eaten it before. I looked at several recipes, all with variations on a theme but in general the dish seemed to be a cross between a crisp and and bread pudding. I chose a recipe from Epicurious because I wanted to get something representative but also something from a site I felt pretty comfortable trusting. I like all the recipe sites where anyone can upload recipes but a couple of times I've been disappointed in the past. Not this time. This Brown Betty turned out to be a simple, straight-forward, fresh-apple tasting dessert with a crunchy topping like crisp, but with a soft, comfort-carby mouth feel like a bread pudding. It wasn't nearly has heavy as I thought it would be which was a plus for these hot summer days.
Do you ever stop and think about how much our food is influenced by pop culture? When I say Apple Brown Betty, everyone who watches King of the Hill immediately knows what I'm talking about. Does the beverage Romulan Ale conjure up a memory? How about Carmela's ricotta pie that bribed the reference letter for Meadow's college application or the baked ziti we drooled over for six seasons? In Las Vegas, several of the 7-Elevens have been temporarily changed into Kwik-E-marts for the summer, selling "good Squishee", Krusty the Clown cereal, and Homer's pink donuts. If you had the opportunity, would you go in? I would.
Excuse me. I'm off in search for a recipe for Vulcan Plommuck soup. Since Vulcans are vegetarians, it will probably be good for the diet...
Fairly heavy on the cardamom and nutmeg, Peggy's Brown Betty is my contribution to Weekend Herb Blogging this week. Created by Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen, WHB is hosted this week by Susan of Food Blogga. Sunday evening, Susan will have a list of all the herby spicy dishes cooked this week.